My mom’s fond of cooking chicken- breading it, baking it, frying it, putting it in sauces from Asian to Mexican, tacos, salads, pastry shells. When she’s stressed or bored, she goes into the kitchen with a package of skinless thighs and goes to work. She’s never made a chicken omelet but it’s only a matter of time. And that’s the nice thing about chicken- it’s a meat of many colors, adaptable and diplomatic.
I’m twenty-eight years old and have moved twenty times. I’ve lived in six states and three countries, although Spain was only for a month, probably too short to count. I leave it on the list, though, to give my brother a reason to call me pretentious.
What defines relocation, in that context? I had a boyfriend who used to startle me by asking, “are you moving in this weekend?” when he only meant, “are you staying with me this weekend?” To me, a “move” does not require a certain length of time, but intent to stay. You can travel to Thailand for a year, but if you train from village to village, staying with strangers and at hostels, you’ll probably say you “traveled around Thailand for a year.” Move into a Bangkok apartment intending to marry a local, however, and you’ll probably say you lived there, even if he calls off the engagement a month later.
I count the two or three weeks I spent in Seattle in the summer of 2008, because I fully intended to stay, but I do not include the three weeks my mom and I spent in Vegas in January of 2009, because we had no intention of leaving our hotel room. Only two of the locations on my list lasted less than a month, the longest, five or six years.
To finish up the illustrative statistics, roughly half of those moves were initiated by my parents or as a family decision, the other half were solely mine. That means I’ve caught up fast with my parents, absorbing, without realizing it, both their fearlessness and their fear. The logistical challenges of packing up one’s belongings and carting them across the country to a foreign city do not bother us- the logistical challenges of staying put, do. If we had a dispute with the neighbors, or the kids in school were horrid, my brother and I rarely had to compromise, wait, or adapt. We’d soon be on our way. It bred a certain arrogance and dissatisfaction that’s hard to root out.
Over the years, my willingness to move evolved into a sense that, if or when anything went wrong, it was my duty to move. We moved several times for promotions for my dad, causing both his professional growth and our financial comfort. We moved to flee neighbors who held loud late-night parties and parked dead cars in their front yards, again to avoid forced busing to a school forty-five minutes away, a third time because pollution was making us sick (I found my hormone test results taken after we left Spokane- wow). In those cases, staying would have been simply due to fear. Ergo, if you’re unhappy and you’re not packing boxes, it’s because you’re afraid of change.
Those concepts, of location, happiness, and fear, are almost inextricably linked in my family’s consciousness. We’re addicted to change, convinced that unhappiness is our fault, and only curable by renting a U-haul.
This has come to a head here in Buffalo, a city a recent Forbes survey dubbed the “eighth most miserable city in the country.”
Twenty moves in twenty-eight years… but I’ve lived in Buffalo for more than a year.
When I visited my relatives in Seattle before Christmas, my aunt told me, “don’t stay there just because you’re ready to settle down.” I think about going home, about the Puget Sound, the superior jazz, the pine trees, family members who I know I could have a margarita with on a Friday night. I also think about the family members who stiffen when I mention Obama, meditation, or sex, the region’s fondness for Goretex, and the obese people who wheel themselves around Wal-Mart in electric carts.
Buffalo has a similar balance sheet. Relationships I tried to build here, have not lasted, my job’s kaput, the weather’s awful. On the other hand, living is cheap, bars are the best in the world, and my mom, brother and I know a lot of people here, whether by face or by name. It’s here, oh-so ironically, where we find a sense of community we haven’t experienced since I was in high school.
Could we find that community again, if we lived in Seattle in the same spirit? Maybe. Probably. I’m not sure if it matters where the next chapter of this story takes place. I’m not sure if it ever did.
I was jabbing a knife into some raw chicken breasts last night, duplicating something I saw Rachel Ray do to pork chops on the TV at the laundromat last week (we don’t have TV at home). As I stuffed the slivers of garlic into the white flesh, I thought, this is what it always comes down to: hum along to the radio, wash the dishes that have collected through out the day, turn on the oven, and try a new recipe. No matter what I do or where I go, from Portland to Devonshire, if you give me an evening alone at home, that’s probably how I’ll spend it. I usually wind up taking so long with the cooking that I’m not very hungry by the time I sit down to eat. I usually feel angry with myself for not having a nicer dining space in which to eat it. And I usually stay up too late with a craft project or blog afterward, like I am tonight.
But instead of staying put and changing my habits, I move, thinking I’ll establish a different routine somewhere else. That I’ll find myself eating with a lovable man instead of the cat, preparing great meals instead of “could be better” experiments, sitting down in a cute little dining room instead of at the Ikea thing mounted on the kitchen wall. But here I am, ten years out of high school, after so many different apartments, cities, roommates, jobs, weather patterns, sink-to-stove arrangements, and still, if I’m by myself on a weeknight, I’ll probably just cook some damn chicken and eat it alone. And by god, if that’s what I tend to do, what’s so wrong with that? Why am I looking for instant perfection?
Because at some point we forgot to enjoy the benefits of our fearlessness and started feeling compelled by it. We forgot that it’s okay to settle.
Mr. Hotness told me a few weeks ago that instead of changing my life, perhaps I needed to change the “writer’s perspective” on that life. That I needed to go into the “room of my depression” and sit there till I got bored and left. It was a beautiful metaphor, and one I’ve had in mind ever since. Sticking chicken into the oven last night, I kept mentally poking myself, looking for signs of having walked into that “depression room-” but I hadn’t. I even had fresh rosemary, for Pete’s sake, and my, how the asparagus glistens when it’s been burnt in olive oil. So my cooking skills won’t “catch me a husband” any time soon. I’m starting to find real, plain, boring old life just a little more interesting than my quest for an imaginary, perfect one.
The equation is pretty simple. If you say, “I want this kind of apartment, this kind of companionship, this kind of entertainment, this kind of landscape outside,” you can expect to be dissatisfied. If you say, “Ah, a night to do anything I want! Let’s put on a ‘Frasier’ DVD and have a beer,” with the cat snoring in the corner and your fuzziest slipper socks on, suddenly, you’re having fun. I’m not talking about rose-colored glasses or blind complacency, just acceptance. Or “acception,” as that cab driver in Chicago told me last December.
The chicken, by the way, was delicious. When I cooked asparagus again tonight, I did not burn it. And that little forward step, my friends, could have happened in any city from Portland, Oregon to Portland, Maine.